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Chicago Picks a School Chief as N.Y.C. Considers Others

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After a six-month national search, the Chicago Board of Education has selected Argie K. Johnson, a top New York City school administrator, to be the district's general superintendent.

The search for a new chancellor in New York City, meanwhile, was thrown into turmoil last week when the leading contender for the post withdrew his name for a second time.

And the Jefferson County, Ky., school board expects to name a new superintendent by the middle of this month, capping a search process that critics said was unduly secretive.

The appointment June 25 of Ms. Johnson, who had been the deputy chancellor for instruction in New York, followed an unusually open search in Chicago.

The school board, which appointed a national screening committee to help conduct its search, invited the two finalists to visit the Windy City for two days and share their views on education with the public.

Ms. Johnson and Laval S. Wilson, the state-appointed superintendent in Paterson, N.J., and a former superintendent in Boston, appeared on a local public-affairs program and at a candidates' forum that was shown on a Chicago cable-television station.

The appointment of Ms. Johnson, 54, was greeted with enthusiasm by school-reform advocates, who said she appeared to support the decentralization movement under way in the district. (See related story, page 1.)

"She's very charismatic, knowledgeable about curriculum, and she impressed everyone in the bilingual community by calling for dual-language programs in all the schools,'' said Bernie Noven of Parents United for Responsible Education.

"This is the kind of superintendent we should have had four years ago,'' said Donald R. Moore, the executive director of Designs for Change, a school-reform research and advocacy group. "She appears to be just the kind of leader we need.''

Some Chicagoans had pushed for the permanent appointment of the interim superintendent, Richard Stephenson, who had replaced Ted Kimbrough. But even Mr. Stephenson's backers expressed support for the new superintendent.

"We will work with her for the good of the system,'' said James Deanes, the president of the Parent/Community Council, an advocacy group.

New York Confusion

Ms. Johnson, who will begin her new job on Aug. 1, was selected on a vote of 13 to 0, with one board member abstaining and one absent. She will be paid $175,000 a year.

Ms. Johnson said she would focus resources on schools with extensive problems, devise performance standards that track students' progress, restructure the central office, and move quickly to settle the teachers' contract and open schools on time.

In New York City, meanwhile, the Board of Education had hoped to name a successor to Joseph A. Fernandez by the end of June.

But those plans were dashed when Bernard R. Gifford, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and the apparent front-runner, sent a letter withdrawing his name for personal and business reasons.

The next day, however, Mr. Gifford flew to New York City for an interview, heightening speculation that he would indeed accept the job.

In the interim, the board voted to extend its search until Aug. 1 so that additional candidates could be considered.

The other two finalists were Waldemar (Bill) Rojas, the superintendent of the San Francisco public schools; and Gerald N. Tirozzi, the past president of Wheelock College and a former state schools chief in Connecticut.

The board of education also named Harvey Garner, the superintendent of Community District 18 and a veteran New York City administrator, to be the interim chancellor.

Finally, on July 8, Mr. Gifford sent a letter to Carol A. Gresser, the board president, asking again that his name be withdrawn.

In a statement, Ms. Gresser said she regretted "that a candidate of Dr. Gifford's caliber felt compelled to remove his name from consideration.''

"But we will continue in our efforts to find the best possible leadership for our school system,'' the statement said.

Mr. Fernandez, whose last day as chancellor was June 30, has assumed the newly created post of president of the Council of the Great City Schools. He will work with the council's staff to raise money for projects and draw attention to urban-education issues. The part-time, paid position is for one year.

Blind Search

In Jefferson County, Ky., which includes Louisville, the school board last month came under fierce criticism for choosing five finalists for the superintendency without knowing their names or where they worked.

Board members made their decisions after reading career summaries that described the candidates' experience, but omitted their names, places of employment, and such personal characteristics as race, gender, and age. The summaries were prepared by a consultant, who later revealed the race and sex of candidates when questioned by board members.

Some residents of the city, and its newspaper's editorial writers, complained that the blind search shut them out of the decisionmaking process and prevented people from gathering information about the candidates independently.

But Carol Ann Haddad, the chairwoman of the board, defended the process, saying the secrecy prevented biased decisionmaking and protected candidates who did not want their current school boards to know of their applications.

The four eventual finalists for the post each spent two days visiting Louisville and meeting with civic groups, parents, and district employees, she noted.

"This gives candidates the opportunity to see if this is the kind of community they want to come to,'' she said, "and to get a feel for what the expectations and concerns are.''

The candidates to succeed Donald W. Ingwerson as superintendent are: James Fleming, the superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District in Orange County, Calif.; Loretta Webb, an area superintendent in Fairfax County, Va.; Jerry L. Patterson, the superintendent of the Appleton, Wis., schools; and Steve Daeschner, the superintendent of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, schools.

Ms. Haddad said the board expects to make its decision by July 19.

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